Adrenal Fatigue: From Chronic Stress to Complete Burnout

It’s no secret that chronic stress can lead to a variety of serious health problems. However, by educating yourself on how chronic stress affects the body, you can stop and even reverse the symptoms that lead to more debilitating disease processes. It all starts with two plum-sized glands called the adrenal glands.

The adrenal glands are located at the top of your kidneys. They are responsible for the release of important stress hormones—cortisol and DHEA.

During normal bouts of stress, the adrenal glands produce whatever level of cortisol and DHEA the body needs to maintain itself. However, when the body endures chronic stress, the adrenal glands become overworked, which leads to adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands are forced to work overtime due to long periods of stress. Over time, this can have a traumatic effect on a variety of the body’s systems, including the hormonal system, digestive system, and detoxification system.

The three most common sources of stress that contribute to adrenal fatigue include chronic pain, emotional stressors, and poor lifestyle choices. When these stressors in your life become more than the body can handle, the adrenal glands react in a predictable pattern. If the stress continues unmanaged, over time it can lead to complete adrenal burnout—a common cause of some of today’s most serious health issues.


Three Stages of Adrenal Burnout


Stage 1 — Stress Overload

No matter the source of stress, your body’s reaction is the same: your adrenal glands produce more stress hormones (cortisol and DHEA) as a way to help the body cope. After the stress dissipates, the adrenal glands recover back their normal state and prepare for the next round of stress. If the stress continues for too long, however, it can affect the body’s ability to recover and disrupt the adrenal glands’ ability to produce its hormones.

Another way to look at this is to think of your adrenal glands as a savings account. If you continually withdraw money from your account without replacing it, you eventually won’t have enough money to make a needed purchase.

Common symptoms of adrenal gland overload include fatigue, anxiety, irritability, sleep disruption, and digestive problems. If the stress continues, your adrenal glands will not be able to maintain the high levels of stress hormones your body needs to cope with the stress. As a result, you will enter into stage 2 of adrenal burnout.


Stage 2 — Fatigue

Some people are born with strong adrenal glands, which allows them to maintain high levels of stress for years without it affecting their health. However, if you are not one of these fortunate individuals, excess stress can quickly push you into stage 2 of adrenal burnout.

The transition between stages typically lasts between 6 and 18 months. During this time, the stress response of the adrenal glands is slowly compromised. If the ongoing stress you’ve been under ceases, it will allow the adrenal glands to recover, followed by your body. However, if the stress continues, it will ultimately lead to stage 3 or adrenal exhaustion—the point at which your adrenal glands can no longer sustain an adequate response to stress.


Stage 3 — Exhaustion

In stage 3 of adrenal burnout, the adrenal glands are no longer able to produce sufficient amounts of cortisol and DHEA when they are needed. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for the body to recover.

Without sufficient amounts of cortisol and DHEA, otherwise healthy people can experience a dramatic change in their health. The most common symptoms experienced at the start of stage 3 are chronic fatigue and low-level depression. This is because cortisol and DHEA help maintain a person’s emotional stability, mood, and energy levels. As these hormones levels continue to drop, brain function can also suffer, resulting in poor memory and mental confusion. Over time, these and other symptoms can begin to diminish one’s health and quality of life.


Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

Some common symptoms that are often related to adrenal fatigue include:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to lose weight
  • Cravings for sweets
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Poor memory
  • Insomnia
  • PMS
  • Weakened immune response
  • Recurrent infections
  • Menstrual cramping
  • Severe mood swings
  • Hot flashes / night sweats
  • Unexplained nervousness or irritability
  • Increased neck, back or joint pain
  • Muscle pain

If you’re an otherwise healthy person but find yourself experiencing one or more of the above symptoms, it could be due to the profound physiological changes that are occurring in your body as a result of adrenal fatigue. The good news is that it is possible to reverse the progression of your symptoms.


Whether you’re in the beginning or final stages of adrenal burnout, our comprehensive lab tests can help identify chronic degenerative processes long before they have a chance to develop into a pathological condition. For a complete health analysis, contact us today to schedule an appointment.

8 thoughts on “Adrenal Fatigue: From Chronic Stress to Complete Burnout”

  1. Evening, sounds about right.
    I have just come out of a bout of chronic fatigue & am having dysfunctional moments when have to process stupidity as there is no way to do so then find this an impossible feat then I have a temporary meltdown from stress. Usually come good after 2-4 says good sleep. Am noticing a pattern & trying to minimise dysfunctional days. Any hints on how do so?

    • Alex, recovering from adrenal fatigue can take time. Often the process of recovery feels like a roller coaster with good days and not so good days.

      The best way to minimize dysfunctional days is to consistently follow a plan that includes ‘eat, sleep, and be mindful.’ Download my free ebook “3 Simple Steps to Heal Your Mind-Body Connection’ for a more in-depth look at what you can do to create a plan around ‘eat, sleep, and be mindful.’

      Thanks for your comment, Alex. I can completely relate to the challenge of “dysfunctional moments.” I remember during my recovery everything would be going fine, and then something would happen (like your having to ‘process stupidity’) and I’d have a setback. It does get better! Let me know how I can best support you during your recovery.
      -Dr. Heather

  2. This is going to be a rather long post. Do kindly bear with my rants. I have had a rather stressful life over the last few years. As a 12 years old child, I was diagnosed with Hepatitis B for the first time in my life. Though tracing the origin of contraction has been difficult to determine, it is believed that I contracted it from a supposedly disposable (apparently not) syringe that was used to provide me with a tetanus shot after I cut myself while playing on the field. I escaped with minor readjustments and taking time off temporarily from my school coursework. It recurred when I was in the second year of my college and turned out to be rather serious. I had to be hospitalized for a month with exceptionally elevated levels of Bilirubin and SGPT and SGOT. For the first 15 days, I could hardly eat anything and survived mostly on drips. I had to share my cabin with three other patients during the first few days as a solitary cabin wasn’t available at the hospitable at that point. Another patient, who was also suffering from high bilirubin counts and since the doctors could not initially identify any hepatitis type in him, they got him tested for HIV. The result was negative. When he shared his account with me, however, it induced a lot of fear in my mind even though I had no real reason to worry. I had a steady relationship back then and had never refrained from using condoms. Nor was I a drug abuser. Nevertheless, my fear took its toll on me in due course of time. Even though I recovered after a certain point, I could never drive the thought of having contracted HIV out of my mind. When I spoke to my doctors, they told me that they didn’t think that I had any reason to worry and that my symptoms didn’t tally with those noticeable in people suffering from HIV, but I could get myself tested if I so wished. I was too scared of the test as well and refrained from doing so for seven long years, even though I would occasionally suffer from panic attacks and for every godforsaken ailment that took hold of me occasionally, I would tend to think that HIV was taking root in me.

    I passed out from college after a few years. During the latter half of my college life, I got involved with too many projects and would mostly stay up at night to finish my work. For days on end, I would go off to sleep sometime around 6-7 in the morning and wake up at around 10-10:30 and rush to work/college. I must also mention that even though I had given up drinking after having gotten out of the hospital, I used to smoke heavily and even indulge in marijuana abuse on a regular basis. My academic records were more than decent and my personal lifestyle rarely stood in my way of pursuing my goals. Or so I thought at that point.

    Things didn’t really change after I started on the professional chapter of my life. I have by and large been interested in work pertaining to media and the irregular schedule that one has to deal with didn’t really help matters. In addition to all that, issues kept cropping up one after the other on the family front and they took their toll on me eventually. I would intermittently suffer from HIV scares simultaneously and when I could take it no more, I finally got myself tested after about 7 years of having been admitted to the hospital. The result of this rapid test was non-reactive. The head of the lab, whom I happened to know personally, assured me of there being no reason for me to worry. A year has passed since I got myself tested. I have worked at an advertising agency in the meantime and while my eating schedule went completely haywire, I also often found sleeping exceptionally difficult during the night. I would more often than not be staying up watching films or reading books and kept delaying going off to sleep even on occasions when I actually felt sleepy. It seems that my routine finally took its toll on me.

    I quit my work just about a month and a half back and took off for a vacation in the mountains. I hadn’t traveled in the last two years and knew that I deserved this break. It was during this trip that major digestion issues started cropping up. I fell asleep at odd hours and felt random pangs of hunger. It felt like my body was going haywire. I always belched and burped after meals. By the time I was back home, I could feel that I was really fatigued and stressed out. I spoke to my doctor who asked me to get a Liver Function Test done given my medical history. The results were normal by and large, bar one category which turned out to be a little on the higher side. The doctor has prescribed medicines and thinks that there is no reason for me to worry. I have been suffering from IBS and the healing process is turning out to be exceptionally slow, even though I seem to be doing better on days when I manage to sleep for at least eight hours. I quit smoking about 2-3 months back and am keeping myself from smoking marijuana as the recent experiences have not proved to be as enjoyable as they once were. On two occasions, I seemed to have suffered from reduced pressure. I have not indulged in any sexual relationship over the past year or so (after having tested Non-reactive for HIV). And yet, my current state is giving me the jitters. I am gradually adapting to my new routine, and am trying to sleep and have my meals on time, but the thought of having contracted HIV is still giving me the jitters. Do I have any reason to worry? Or is it just me stressing myself out because I have been stressed out anyway for the longest period of time? Your article makes a lot of sense and has shed light on my irrational fears. Still, some words from your end could really appease my restless mind. Thanks.

    • Thank you for your heartfelt comments, Michael. While I wouldn’t comment on your specific situation without first speaking to you in person, what I can tell you is that your story is consistent with someone who is suffering from some significant blocks, an Identity Gap, and likely some degree of burnout. I encourage you to set up a time to speak with me in person at I look forward to talking with you!

  3. I have adrenal burnout and insulin resistant. For to long. How do I find hope again and where do I start. I find it hard to make chnges.

  4. Hi Doctor,

    I am in the finance industry. There is endless workload and KPIs to hit. I find myself really burnt with my heart racing fast for months. What should I do?

    • Thank you for your question, Jack. There is nothing you SHOULD DO…there are things you CAN do.

      I suggest you take a step back and look at what you really want from life, and get in touch with your core desires. I am guessing you are working at this point for the money, and possibly for the thrill of overcoming the odds to make quotas.

      Try looking at what you want the money for, and connect with that desire. Contact me at drclark (at) vibrantagain dot com to get more support with this.


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